How to Think Like a Social Business

Most businesses are still focused on leveraging social media for its marketing potential. Facebook has proved that brands can market effectively through audience targeting on social media. And, the same can be said for other social channels.

But, is that all there is to social media? Just marketing?

If you’re a brand using social media for marketing purposes, isn’t your ultimate goal to create a business outcome?

I know that’s a rhetorical question. But, not when it comes from your executives. Executives don’t care how many re-tweets you received on your last campaign if that campaign didn’t move the needle.

It’s time we stop thinking about social media and start thinking about social business. Surely, I didn’t invent the phrase social business, but I sure have embraced it because it more accurately describes what we’re all working on so diligently.

However, it’s become obvious to me that many people don’t really understand the meaning of social business. So, here is my definition:

A social business embraces both the culture and technology of social media and digital communication for strategic business outcomes. A social business understands that employees across the organization should contribute to brand excellence, through external and internal engagement.

The word engagement is paramount to my definition of social business. Another inherently important aspect of social business is the nature of both internal and external engagement and the involvement of employees in such engagement.

You probably noticed that the word “marketing” isn’t in my definition of social business. Not that social media marketing isn’t important or that a social business doesn’t do social media marketing. It’s just that social business is much more than just social media marketing.

A social business isn’t fixated on vanity metrics such as likes, fans, followers, and retweets. Not that we shouldn’t pay attention to those metrics. But, those aren’t “move the needle” kind of metrics.

A social business is focused on business outcomes. Here are a few examples of tangible business outcomes available through social activities: actionable feedback from leads, prospects, current customers, new customers, employees and essentially all stakeholders in the business. I’ll elaborate on other examples further down in this article.

A social business practitioner is someone who seeks to build new relationships with influencers, prospects, customers and partners, to improve business development results, recruit and retain employees, gain competitive insights that can help drive decisions, drive product launch strategies, generate ideas for new products or services, lead generation and of course, a social business measures the impact of digital and social engagement on market share and/or revenue.

One of the biggest attributes of a social business is employee advocacy. This is the strategy of empowering employees to be an ambassador for your brand in digital channels. This is accomplished through a well thought-out plan, training, and governance.

Each of the business outcomes described above are examples of business results your executives care deeply about.


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As promised, the following are other ways that social business is bigger than social media marketing.

Employee Recruitment & Retention

Organizations can find prospective employees through social media channels by delivering content that attracts qualified talent. Likewise, empowering employees to share their experiences through social media can strengthen the connective tissue between the employee and the employer.

Customer Service

Many brands are terrific at engaging with customers through social to answer questions and complaints. In most B2C industries the consumer expects a brand to respond promptly in social channels. A few B2C examples of great social customer service include Whole Foods, Southwest Airlines, Hilton, Hertz, Xbox, and many others. The same trend is growing in B2B industries with examples such as Dell, IBM, Cisco, SAP, SAS and other tech-centric B2B brands.

Social Selling

While I have mixed sentiments about the phrase social selling, there’s no doubt that its popularity is skyrocketing. Brands across all industries are exploring ways to teach their sales teams to use social media in their selling efforts. The concern I have is that many still don’t understand the difference between pestering someone on social media and being a trusted resource through content and engagement. The latter is characteristic of a social business practitioner.

Content Marketing

If you’re surprised to see content marketing as a form of social business, allow me to explain. A social business mindset has a keen understanding of the type of content the customer finds valuable in each stage of their buyer’s journey. Careful planning and creation of the right content at the right time, combined with distribution through social channels AND employees is a function of social business.

Social Advertising

As I mentioned at the outset of this article, marketing on social media is here to stay. Advertising on social channels is a valuable method for brands to become very targeted in the quest to reach the customer in the midst of a hyper fast and noisy digital landscape.


One of my favorite quotes on this topic is from Maria Huntalas, Senior Manager at IBM, in her paper 25 Inspiring Global Social Business Leaders. Chapter one is titled “Social Business: Shifting From Noun to Verb.” In my own words, it’s time to go from “doing social to thinking like a social business.”


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